Monday, June 17, 2013


Former Labor Undersecretary and migrant worker rights activist Susan “Toots” Ople is being honored this week by the State Department for her work in fighting trafficking in persons (TIP).

Every year, the State Department fetes individuals around the world who’ve devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. They work often in great peril to protect victims, punish offenders and raise awareness of criminal human trafficking activities.

Ople is the youngest daughter of former Senate President, longtime Labor Secretary and journalist Blas Ople.  She heads the labor advocacy organization named after him, writes for the tabloid Tempo and the Panorama weekend magazine, has a radio program on dwIZ station and serves as consultant for the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Manila.

She has been deeply involved in various campaigns to stop human trafficking and abuses by illegal recruiters, including the creation of an OFW Re-integration Council and improving the labor justice system in the Philippines (e.g., Ople has tirelessly denounced contractualization practices in the country that she views as one of the chief impediments against improving the lives of Filipino workers).

She finished grade school at St. Theresa’s College in Quezon City, secondary education at Sandusky High School in Michigan, and the University of Sto. Thomas where she earned a Communication Arts degree in 1984. She took post-graduate studies at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The Philippines barely missed US sanctions for her seeming ambivalence to the problem of human trafficking. Two years ago, the country was removed from the Tier 2 watch list, after teetering on the verge of being demoted anew to Tier 3 where the US government would have been legally bound to stop giving aid to the Philippines.

Although the TIP campaign is described as gaining impetus, especially after President Aquino signed a law (RA 10364) last February to stiffen penalties and offer better protection for victims of human trafficking, the problem remains serious.

The Philippines, the 2012 State Department report said, “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” but acknowledged “it is making significant efforts to do so.”

Vice President Jejomar Binay, former chairman of the Inter-Agency Council Against Human Trafficking (IACAT) which is credited with helping to turn the tide, blamed poverty, ignorance and crime as chief culprits of the TIP crisis in the Philippines. The country, he added, remains a source, destination and transit point of human trafficking.

“Men, women and children continue to be subjected to forced labor in factories, construction sites, fishing vessels, agricultural plantations, mines, quarries, and private homes, where many trafficked women and girls suffer sexual abuse, rape and physical violence,” Binay said recently.

The State Department’s decision to honor Ople apparently recognizes the growing role of non-government organizations (NGOs) in combating TIP. The Blas Ople Policy Center is one of the key civic groups that have been able to mount a global campaign while overcoming the domestic political, economic and religious barriers which usually make a nationally coordinated drive difficult.

At least 5 of the 29 TIP-related convictions reported last year were the result of cases filed or prosecuted by NGOs, the State Department noted. It also lamented the alleged lack of understanding of the country’s anti-trafficking labor network among “many judges, prosecutors, social service workers and law enforcement officials – a significant impediment to successful prosecutions.”

Meanwhile, the government has tightened the watch against recruitment agencies, seaports and airports to physically block movement of potential victims, but Ople is lobbying to push the war closer to the frontline. “What’s said is we rely on immigration as the last sentinel when it should be on the prevention side, in the barangays (where it starts),” she explained in one TV interview.

Despite the recent impressive economic strides, she believes many Filipinos – most of them the poorest of the poor, women and children – will remain vulnerable to traffickers. “Even if we say the economy is growing,” Ople averred, “The time it takes to cascade all these gains is so slow. Then you have these sweet-talking recruiters. All they need is the promise of a better life.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Two Filipinas, born on either side of the Pacific, were among this year’s graduates of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., getting the rare honor of receiving their diplomas from President Obama, the American Command-in-Chief himself. 

Christine Layug shakes hand of President Obama at US Naval Academy graduation rites in Annapolis, Md.

Christine Joy Jiao Layug of Oakland, Ca. was one of several Filipino-American graduates, shining a light perhaps on one remarkable facet of the Filipinos’ long-running affinity with the US Navy. Joining the Navy has become a generational rite for many Filipinos – Christine Joy, for instance, has 10 uncles either actively serving or retired from the US Navy – not counting her father Roy and maternal grandfather (now both retired).

On the other hand, Chinna Louise Eulogio Salio was the only Filipino graduate in Annapolis Class 2013. Born in landlocked Mountain Province and studying to be a nurse, it was almost inevitable she would be drawn to nearby Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City but she too was pulled by the lure of the sea, choosing to go to Annapolis (where incidentally, her younger brother Kendrick is now a sophomore and when he graduates, they will become the first Filipino sister-brother alumni from the US Naval Academy).

Ever since President William McKinley signed an executive order in 1901 authorizing the recruitment of 500 Filipinos in the US Navy, it has been career pursued by Filipinos ever since. Aside from the stability and relative prosperity it offers, the US Navy also provided a gateway for thousands of immigrant families, fueling the growth of the large Fil-Am communities from San Diego, Ca. to Penscaola, Fl. to Norfolk, Va.

The US Navy still casts a long shadow in the Philippines, where its presence is largely seen as the country’s chief deterrent against the aggression and bullying of its more militarily powerful neighbors.

Although she already an ROTC scholarship, Layug said she chose to go to Annapolis because “no other university or college in the US gives the unique training, discipline and academic and physical challenges.” Her mom says Christine Joy has been dreaming of going to Annapolis since high school, likely drawing inspiration from her father and all the other relatives who served in the US Navy.

She was in the Dean’s list and graduated with honors in her Major – Applied Mathematics – eliciting little surprise when she opted for a sub-specialty in Operations Analysis. She’s also part of Catholic Daughters organization in the USNA campus, where she’s a cantor and according to one of the group’s leaders “had the voice of an angel.”

As may be typical of a Filipino “Navy family”, her graduation from the Academy last week was a great source of pride, perhaps made special because she got her diploma from her Commander-in-Chief himself. Her grandmothers – Emily Jiao and Gloria Layug led a tiny army of aunts, uncles and cousins who witnessed the event.

Layug’s next stop is basic flight school in Pensacola, Fl. but she also has ticket via a Burke Scholarship to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Ca. She sees a long and illustrious career in the US Navy, predicting she’ll be staying beyond the minimum 5 years after graduating from the Academy.

Chinna Salio was featured in an Associated Press story on women at the US Naval Academy (this photo was published in the Los Angeles Times)

Salio is the eldest in a brood of six. She was pursuing a nursing degree at the Benguet State University when she veered sharply to the PMA, passing the entrance examinations in 2008. On her sophomore year, she took the competitive tests for the US military service academies and became one of three who made it through (the others graduated last week from West Point and the US Air Force Academy in Colorado).

She is a champion marksman in her class, showing off her medals during a brief vacation at PMA earlier this year.

Salio has been an achiever for most of her life. She was a scholar at the Philippine Science High School (Cordillera campus). She proudly reveals that her younger brother Kendrick, whose passion includes sailing, is now a sophomore in Annapolis and his twin Kenneth is studying aircraft engineering in Canada.

After the graduation rites at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (which pays homage to famous naval and Marine battles including several in the Philippines), Salio was commissioned as an Ensign in the Philippine Navy by Capt. Elson Aguilar, the concurrent Defense and Naval attaché in Washington DC.

Salio is already on her way home to the Philippines where a warm welcome awaits her both at Navy Headquarters and from family in Baguio City. She wants to be a surface warfare officer because that’s where she sees she can put all the lessons learned from the world’s most advanced navy to good use.

Though their paths now diverge, each joining a navy that can’t be more polar apart, Layug and Salio bring a common denominator other than their roots – the drive to serve, to leave their mark and in the cusp of a long voyage, hope and the unshakeable excitement of the future beckoning.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Times are changing, says Washington DC special education teacher Marisol Angala, adding that the diversity that’s fueled much of the growth in places like the nation’s capital should be reflected in their workers unions as well.

Angala, a University of the Philippines-trained teacher at the Jefferson Academy Middle School for the past decade, has been outspoken and passionate about finding better ways to educate America’s school children. It’s driven her to an unprecedented campaign for the presidency of the 4,000-strong Washington Teachers Union (WTU).

She is one of hundreds of Filipino teachers – the vanguard of a foreign recruiting binge by US public schools – who were lured by the promise of better pay and a slice of the “American dream”.

They filled an acute teacher shortage especially in tough, troubled inner city schools that struggled to meet standards imposed by the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act. The Filipino mentors can be found virtually everywhere in America, from top-tier East Coast academies to sparse Indian reservations in the New Mexico desert.

“Times have changed,” Angala declared, “and public education has evolved.”

She wants to steer WTU towards her vision of the future. “There’s a battle being waged right now,” Angala averred, “It’s not about unions standing up for teachers; it’s about teachers standing up for themselves through their unions.”

“There are so many things happening right now at the local and national level which lead to frustration, anger and all those are harmful not only to the teachers but also to the children whose lives we continue to influence daily,” she said, adding that “when I empower, encourage and inspire teachers to do their best for the kids, I am impacting the lives of more than just the students in my classroom.”

Angala is a familiar face in the education protest scene of DC (something she attributes to years at UP where she says she learned stand up for what’s right). She was WTU’s vice president for special education from 2007-2010, a member of the Asian & Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the Teacher Leaders Network and the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society for Key Women Educators.

She is board certified as an exceptional needs specialist and was named Outstanding Special Education Teacher (2008-2009) by the National Association for Special Education Teachers (NASET). She also has two blogs – “Digital Anthology” is the online extension of her classroom and “Teacher Sol” where she tackles education-related issues, including the plight of Filipino mentors in Maryland.

She says the “prospects are both exciting and frightening” as she cobbled a multicultural and multi-generational ticket which, she vowed, would bring "real" changes in the WTU. “We have exceptional candidates in our slate (4 of them are also Filipinos), who carry the promise of being real game-changers because of our diversity, problem solving skills and courage to speak on behalf of our teachers and students,” she explained.

They are pressing for an “objective and fair evaluation system and due process aligned with that system.” She sees the inordinate emphasis on high-stakes tests and the lack of support and resources to teachers as the biggest problems bedeviling the DC Public School system today.

“We should now be thinking how we can change our traditional practices to better reflect the tasks assigned to our schools, teachers and students,” she said, stressing that “teachers should be treated as partners in reforms.”

Her “platform” includes providing more resources to DC public school teachers, lower class sizes especially for schools in poverty-stricken communities, and building respect for teachers.

Unions, she added, are “only as good as their members. I believe we need to set higher expectations and standards for ourselves so we can inspire our students and encourage them to do what it takes to be successful in life. We need to take control of our actions and not sit by as others define effective teaching for us.”

If Angala sounds like she’s gearing for a fight, that’s probably because she’s been there before. A tireless advocate of change, she was part of the WTU panel that negotiated a “progressive” teachers’ contract which led to a 15 caseload limit for special education teachers, among other concessions.

She promised to “rebuild our teacher’s union and make great things happen” as WTU president. The ballots have been mailed out and should be back in the Post Office by June 7.

Her feisty attitude is stark contrast to the publicity that Filipino teachers have received lately – as hapless victims of illegal recruitment, from Prince George’s county in Maryland to the Baton Rouge parish in Louisiana. Angala offers the contrasting image of a fighter ready to pounce on behalf of her fellow teachers and perhaps more importantly, for the school kids.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Growing up on the fringes of the Dipolog city airport, Theodore Karl Quijano was bitten early by the lure of flight and that has taken him all the way to Colorado, where he graduates next week from the US Air Force Academy.

With the cost of college proving too much of a burden on his family, Quijano decided to apply at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City, and later saw the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream by competing for a slot in the USAFA.

“I grew up right next to the airport,” he revealed. “I saw planes land and take off every day and the sight made me dream to be able to fly those aircraft one day.”

He not only learned to fly, he soared in the Academy, achieving feats that should make Filipinos proud – he was given command of Cadet Squadron 10 last Fall after being assigned as Cadet Wing Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, said to be one of the highest positions in the Academy managing over 4,000 people, during the Summer. A year earlier, he was also made Superintendent of CS-10.

“God, family and country – it was clear to me that I was doing this for them, not for myself,” Quijano averred. “I wanted to work for something bigger than myself. This made me stand out in the Academy and drove others to have the same outlook.”

As part of the graduating class of 2013, he marches with honors at Falcon Field next Wednesday. He belongs to the Superintendent’s (overall excellence) and Dean’s (academic excellence) list. Quijano will also receive the Outstanding Basic Cadet Award from the Academy’s Commandant for finishing 1st in the class of 1,300 cadets for military excellence.

In addition he will get his Parachutist Badge, Space Wings (for completing the space operations program that taught him, among others, how to operate satellites), Glider Pilot Wings and the Powered Flight Wings.

Quijano ranked 2nd in athletics for his batch and is the only Filipino cadet (out of 15 who preceded him in the USAFA since 1956) to get a perfect physical fitness score in the Academy’s 500 Club.

The eldest in a brood of seven, he learned early on the challenges of being a leader in the family. “My father inspired me with stories about successful people both in the military and corporate worlds, and how I should work to be just like them when I grew up and help send my siblings to school.”

“But most of all I learned from my parents the value of living with honor, integrity and service to others,” Quijano said.

He spent three years at the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Diliman, Quezon City but the expenses were taking a toll on the family finances, Quijano explained, so he grabbed the opportunity to enter the PMA where he not only got a free education, he also got a modest stipend and the guarantee of a good job after graduation.

He later took the tests to qualify for the United States Service Academies – one of the most rigorous examinations that allows only the brightest and strongest candidates from all over Southeast Asia to join West Point (Army), Annapolis (Navy and Marines) and the Air Force Academy (the Philippines used to have yearly slots reserved in these schools until the US closed its military bases in the country).

Life in USAFA wasn’t easy, Quijano conceded. There wasn’t much difference in training concept with PMA, he added, but it still took a heavy mental, physical and emotional toll partly because he was so far from home and family.

“I couldn’t let my American counterparts look me down; that’s why I strived to be better at everything I do every single day – whether it’s military, athletics or academics. It just so happened I excelled militarily and athletically. I had the right attitude which PMA equipped me with and it helped me get through the difficult times,” Quijano explained.

After the graduation ceremonies, the foreign cadets are usually ushered to a separate ceremony where they will get their officer’s commission from their respective countries. The Philippine Air Force’s DC-based military attaché, Col. Arnel Duco is expected to swear him in as a 2nd Lieutenant in the PAF.

“I intend to serve my country to the utmost of my abilities,” Quijano stressed. “I will use what I learned here to be an asset for change and innovation in the military. I will do what I can at my level to hopefully affect the bigger system.”

It’s been a long journey for the young man whose dreams were built watching the planes fly in and out of the runway close to their home. So, near the end of four years of study and toil, the newly-minted Philippine Air Force officer declared his most ardent wish, “I hope to fly the Philippine’s aircraft soon.”

Monday, May 20, 2013


The country’s top envoy in Washington DC appeared to shift the focus of maritime spats with neighbors from the Philippine’s northern frontier back to the west where a large Chinese fishing fleet was headed to the disputed Spratly islands.

“Over the past two years, the whole world has seen the increase in belligerent activity in the waters in our part of the world, particularly in the areas in and around the West Philippine Sea,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia told the annual meeting of the World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads last Friday.

His press release over the weekend made no mention of the more immediate conflict with Taiwan which has stopped hiring Filipino workers, cut trade ties and carried out a much-publicized saber-rattling naval exercise after the Philippine Coast Guard killed a Taiwanese fishermen in waters they both claim as part of their territory.

“When another country stations its boats on a shoal that is a mere 120 miles from our mainland and more than 400 miles from theirs, the Philippine cannot just keep quiet,” he stressed. Adding to his China tirade, Cuisia said “When another country declares that it owns about 75 percent of what the Philippines owns as exclusive economic zone, we are duty bound to stand up and protect it.”

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz begins sea trials off the Carolina coast before making the long voyage home next month.

The part of the Balintang Channel where the shooting of the Taiwanese fishing boat occurred is claimed by both the Philippines and Taiwan as part of their exclusive economic zones. Efforts to define that maritime border and possibly craft a joint use agreement have been stymied by the Manila’s “one China policy” where it only recognizes the government in Beijing. 

The United States has expressed concern over the May 9 flare-up and called on both sides to lower the tension. The Philippines and Taiwan are longstanding American allies, crucial to its long-term designs to reign in China and ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea through which, Cuisia pointed out, $1.3 trillion-worth of US products flow through yearly.

Some officials here say the Philippines is eager to put the crisis with Taiwan behind them and focus on the South China Sea where China has actually, and in some instances, virtually occupied Philippine territory. They have built permanent structures on Mischief Reef just 130 miles off Palawan and last year, cordoned off Scarborough Shoal which lies 120 miles off Zambales in the main Luzon Island.

Two Chinese spy ships have reportedly dropped anchor last week about 6 miles west off the Philippine-occupied Ayungin Shoal, near Mischief Reef.

The Philippines has hauled China to a United Nations tribunal on the laws of the sea to have the latter’s claim, the so-called 9-dash-9, declared as invalid. China alleges that ancient maps assigned her ownership over virtually the entire South China Sea.

The Philippines has sought and received military assistance from the US, a treaty ally with which it has a mutual defence pact. “We are look at opportunities for assistance in training, capacity building and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Cuisia averred.

As part of President Obama’s pivot to Asia, the US is stepping up its military presence in the region, including more frequent US Navy visits to the Philippines. Although Cuisia emphasized the American “rebalance” in Asia also entailed intensified economic and trade ties, there is no mistaking the security bias towards containing a militarily resurgent China and shielding America’s allies against her growing belligerence.

As if to emphasize that dimension of PH-US relations, Cuisia visited the USS Wasp, the Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship which is being prepared to accommodate the US Marines variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Aircraft. He was able to speak with the ship’s Filipino-American crew members during the brief visit.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Last week, Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. issued a statement that got relatively scant attention, lauding the conviction of two men who murdered journalists.

News about the conviction of confessed triggerman Marlon Recamata for the 2011 killing of environmental activist and broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega and Clarito Arizobal for the 2004 murder of Bicol journaliust Rowell Endrinal appeared to draw more international interest than in the Philippines itself.

Human rights groups and even the State Department have bewailed the “culture of impunity” in the country – something that leaders in Manila have challenged vigorously. That “culture” has been blamed for the government’s failures to stop extrajudicial killings, human rights abuses, graft, human trafficking, intellectual property theft and host of other ills that has tarnished an otherwise cozy relationship with Washington.

“These convictions are much-awaited developments that show that the Philippines is heading toward the right direction,” Cuisia declared.

Still he admitted the country “still has a long way to go when it comes to human rights” but the recent convictions left “no room for doubt about the Aquino administration’s firm resolve to put an end to the culture of impunity.”

Before Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stepped down from the presidency, she was pummeled by human rights activists who blame her for about 800 murders, forced disappearances and torture of churchmen, journalists, labor organizers and peasant leaders. The US virtually censured her administration when Capitol Hill imposed conditions on the grant of military aid and made it difficult for her to close a multi-million-dollar Compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

But the blame can’t all be heaped on Arroyo or even on her successor, Pres. Benigno Aquino III who has detained the former president and vowed to crack down against extrajudicial killings and other abuses.

That there is a “culture” that makes this difficult is true. Filipinos seem to be enamored by pop American crime shows like “CSI” or “NCIS” where cases are resolved and prisoners thrown behind bars in the span of one episode.

The top Philippines news and current affairs shows, when they tackle crime stories, are not shy on revealing all the gory details but usually consider the “case closed” after a suspect is tagged or arrested by the police. The coverage of trials is limited to the big, sensational cases, usually when there are some wealthy or well-known celebrities involved. 

There is little patience from the public, and there’s not enough support (or motivation) for the courts to produce what the government’s critics abroad ultimately use as a yardstick – the number of convictions. It seems Filipinos still need to learn the concept of crime and punishment.

Significantly, the convictions of Recamata and Arizobal are the first ever since President Aquino took office 3 years ago. That leaves about 150 other cases (the NGO Karapatan says the number is close to 1,200) of extrajudicial killings he inherited from his much-maligned predecessor that have yet to get anywhere in the courts.

That has opened his administration to charges of ineptitude and their indignant denials, pointing to arrests or the fewer killings today, are futile. Only convictions count, the reckoning of deeds, the punishment of culprits.

In the Ortega case for instance, the Aquino administration fails because the masterminds – former Palawan Gov. Mario Joel Reyes and his brother former Mayor Mario Reyes continue to elude justice (along with former army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, a chief suspect in political killings in Central Luzon).

Whether it’s trying to keep off the human trafficking watch list or burnishing the country’s IPR reputation, convictions are crucial.

Near the end of this month, the Philippines comes for its universal periodic review, a process one once every 4 years by the United Nations Human Rights Council. It will only be the 2nd time the country will undergo the review, and will determine if the Philippines has lived up to its commitments.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Who would think that the general, who once had an “arrest warrant” put out by communist insurgents, could also be a “sorbetes magnate” who last week was given one of the highest decorations a grateful country can give as he closed here in Washington DC a storied military career?

Maj. Gen. Cesar Badong Yano was the country’s defense attaché since 2011 and is credited with working with the Pentagon for the procurement and delivery of two badly-needed high-endurance patrol ships for the Philippine Navy as the Philippine military shifted focus on external defense and the country’s vast maritime borders.

He officially ended that stint and retired from military service – after 34 years, 4 months and 9 days – on his birthday last May 10.

The citation for the Philippine Legion of Honor Award extolled his “eminently meritorious and valuable services” enhancing diplomatic and security relations with the United States as well as Canada.

The citation said Yano provided the Department of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines “vital information that served as basis in the decision making of government policy makers…relentlessly engaged Washington DC-based security experts and think-tanks to discuss security implications to the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific region and submitted numerous reports very relevant to the present security dynamics in the regional and global arena…”

Under his watch, the Philippine Navy procured two Hamilton-class weather high-endurance cutters (WHECs) that were re-christened the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (currently the PN flagship) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz. A Philippine Air Force C-130 “Hercules” cargo plane was also successfully overhauled in Mojave, Ca. and the AFP itself got $2.8 million-worth of new weapons and various military supplies.

But Yano already had a distinguished career even before he arrived in Washington DC. A native of Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte, he received his commission from the Philippine Military Academy in 1980.

He is the flipside of a deeply respected tandem in the Philippine Army – his elder brother Alexander (PMA Class ‘76) was a former Chief of Staff of the Philippine Armed Forces (2008-09). When we first interviewed him after taking over the Washington DC post, the younger Yano said he decided to join the military so he could watch his brother’s back. And in a Facebook post of his awarding and retirement ceremonies at the Philippine Embassy last week, his “Kuya” was among the first to greet him, welcoming him to the “retired ranks”. It would appear the siblings still keep an eye out for each other.

The younger Yano cut his proverbial teeth leading a reconnaissance platoon with the 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division in Sulu.

He was a team leader at the Presidential Security Command – which strongman Ferdinand Marcos transformed into his Praetorian Guards – during the People Power uprising that eventually led to his ouster and midnight-hour escape to Hawaii in 1986. Though the popular revolt was relatively peaceful, it severely tested the Filipino soldiers’ professionalism and patriotism; Yano stressed that to this day, he is proud he never disobeyed orders yet upheld civilian supremacy and democracy.

He led an army intelligence team in Southern Luzon, served as assistant chief of staff for civil military operations and spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division in Northern Mindanao. He got his first command, the 29th Infantry Battalion, in 1999.

His field assignments were book-ended by a detail as military aide to then Senate President Ernesto Maceda in 1997 and headquarters duties at General Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo and the Philippine Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio from 2000 to 2004 and later as the military’s chief liaison with Congress in 2010.

By 2005, Yano was back in the field, serving as chief of staff of the 7th Infantry Division and later the Northern Luzon Command, both based at Fort Magsaysay in Cabanatuan City.

Two years later he was given command of the 302nd Brigade which had combat battalions operating in the islands of Cebu, Bohol and eastern half of Negros, and appeared to have done such a good job against the New People’s Army (NPA) that they issued a “warrant of arrest” against him and six other army field commanders.

And as he swaps dress suit and combat fatigues with more lively civilian attire, another facet of the man has emerged. It turns out he’s also a “sorbetes magnate” of sorts – he owns a large fleet of ice cream carts – those innocuous, colorful, street-bound push carts that are as much as part of most Filipinos’ childhood as bubblegum or “patintero”.

Nothing perhaps conjures up happy childhood memories faster than “dirty ice cream”, slowly dripping down a sugar cone under the summer sun. They’re refreshing and cheap, but the income Yano made from his “sorbetes” carts helped send his children to Ateneo and LaSalle which he couldn’t have afforded on an honest general’s pay.

If there were qualities that I thought would explain his life’s many successes, it would be his sincerity, humility and keen eye for opportunities. The first piece I posted about him on the internet in 2011 received so many hits I was sure he had a fan’s club back home. I realized then Cesar Yano leaves lasting friendships because he never gets tired of creating new ones and this has made him a “wanted man” wherever he goes and in whatever endeavor he decides to do.

Friday, May 10, 2013


In the wake of last Thursday’s deadly clash between a Philippine maritime enforcement vessel and Taiwanese fishermen and reports that a large Chinese fishing flotilla was steaming to the Spratly Islands, Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. reminded the world these were not ordinary territorial disputes because they had wider implications for international law and commerce.

“While some would like to characterize the issue as a purely territorial dispute,” the country’s envoy in Washington DC said, “the issue clearly has far reaching implications to the international community in terms of respect for the freedom of navigation and commerce, and the peaceful settlement of disputes.”

A Taiwanese fisherman, identified in reports as 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng, was killed when a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries vessel, partly manned by Coast Guard (PCG) personnel, fired on his boat as it allegedly tried to ram them. The Philippine ship was trying to board the Taiwanese fishing boat on suspicion it was poaching in Philippine waters.

According to the Taiwanese government, the incident took place 180 nautical miles southeast of the southernmost tip of Taiwan, which placed the fishing boats closer to the Philippines than to Taiwan. Both countries claim the area as part of their exclusive economic zones.

PCG spokesman Armand Balilo stressed the Taiwanese boats had been in Philippine waters and they were just doing their job to stop illegal fishing.

The incident appeared to draw rare unanimity between Taipei and Beijing as they demanded an explanation and an apology. While the Philippine’s chief envoy in Taiwan reportedly apologized to the dead fisherman’s family, Commander Balilo said in Manila, “If somebody died, they deserve our sympathy but not an apology.”

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was quoted saying, “We demand the Philippines investigate and clarify the truth, to apologize, apprehend the killer and compensate.” Foreign Minister David Lin added, “We urged the Philippine government to open a full investigation on this case and send their apology to Taiwan’s government.”

So far, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) response has been to announce the grounding the Philippine ship’s crew while the incident was being investigated. Reports from Taipei suggest that country’s Ministry of Justice may ask to prosecute Filipinos involved in the death of its fisherman under a bilateral legal assistance agreement signed with the Philippines last April.

This incident comes as the Philippines is keeping a wary eye on a large Chinese fishing flotilla headed towards the Spratly Islands. “We hope China would respect our sovereignty,” Amb. Cuisia told a forum on the South China Sea held this week by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

“We hope there would be no more provocative actions because these do not certainly contribute to the enhancement of relations,” he added.

All these are coming on the eve of midterm elections in the Philippines. Although world affairs have figured little in domestic politics, these incidents could quickly spiral out of control and force the 3-year-old Aquino administration into a corner just like the August 2010 Luneta hostage crisis where a botched rescue resulted in the death of 8 tourists from Hong Kong (President Aquino was forced to apologize after he was caught on TV smiling as he inspected the scene of the carnage).

The President has also been criticized for his handling of the Scarborough Shoal face-off with China last year. He agreed to withdraw Philippine ships from the shoal, a rich fishing ground about a hundred miles off the country’s main island of Luzon, in what was supposed to be a mutual de-escalation of an impasse that began when the Philippine Navy boarded Chinese fishing boats and caught them red-handed harvesting protected marine species. Not only did the Chinese stay, but they’ve allegedly blocked the area against Filipino fishermen. 

Last January, the Philippines brought China’s “9-dash line” claim for adjudication before the United Nations. “What it asks is for the Arbitral Tribunal to declare that China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea are contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and are thus invalid,” Cuisia explained.

The sea dispute, which has been portrayed as a David-vs-Goliath struggle between China and her smaller, less powerful neighbors, has so far been skillfully managed by the Aquino administration.

It’s been used to stir nationalistic fervor at home while highlighting the strategic importance of the Philippines, especially here in the United States where the Obama administration is “pivoting” to the Asia Pacific region.

The treaty allies have agreed to expand US military presence and aid to the Philippines, including stretching north a string of “Coast Watch” radar stations originally built to guard against infiltration by Islamic extremists in Mindanao, to now possibly look at Chinese naval activity in the Spratlys. 

A 2nd Hamilton-class all-weather patrol ship – a sister ship of the one that stopped the Chinese fishing boats at Scarborough Shoal before she was ordered to retreat – is now sailing to the Philippines after extended refurbishing in North Carolina.

The territorial disputes, first with China and now with Taiwan, have helped mute opposition to the increased US military presence in the country. But they underscore the high stakes in playing one superpower against one that’s fast emerging. It requires great skill and anytime someone gets killed in this dangerous game, it just makes the venture that more volatile.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


The nascent Filipino community in the Virginia heartland celebrated a coming-out-party of sorts when it organized their first fiesta at the Richmond Convention Center last Saturday (April 27).

“We don’t know how big we are,” said Rudy Bolipata, a long-time Richmond resident. “But when we have gatherings, we notice there are always a lot of new faces.” He said community leaders cooked up the Filipino Fiesta not only to showcase the Filipino’s rich cultural heritage but also partly to gauge just how large they are. And from the fiesta’s smashing success, they obviously were large enough.

The last Census suggests there are fewer than a thousand Filipinos in Richmond, the seat of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and its adjacent counties. About an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Washington DC, this old and historic city lies between the large, rapidly-growing Filipino-American communities in the national capital region and the Tidewater region which includes NorfolkVirginia Beach and Newport News, among others.

“Dati isang association lang kami,” Bolipata explained, “ngayon mayrun na ibang lumulutang.”

From parishes and neighborhoods, Filipinos are slowly showing their collective clout. Perhaps evidence of this was last weekend’s Filipino Fiesta that was attended by Fil-Am Congressman Bobby Scott (3rd Dist., Va.) and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe who will be battling for the Governor’s post in November (Cuccinelli dropped by in the morning and McAuliffe arrived shortly after his Republican rival left, according to Bolipata).

Some might be surprised that there’s been a Filipino American Association of Central Virginia (FAACV) since 1972. Romy Hernandez, another longtime Richmond resident, said one of the most active Filipino organizations here is from the Our Lady of Lourdes parish which will be holding its 8th annual Filipino festival this August.

One of those parishioners is University of the Philippines-trained educator Eddie Ilarde who volunteers to teach folk dances to 2nd generation Fil-Ams here. A math teacher by profession, he says he’s just one of about 200 Filipino teachers in Richmond and nearby Chesterfield, Petersburg and Hanover.

“You bring whatever you have and you share it,” he explained of the Kultura Pilipino, a Fil-Am cultural ensemble that includes both young Fil-Ams and their non-Filipino friends who’ve been enamored by the regal “Singkil” or the lively “Maglalatik”.

“Mga ka-klase ng mga anak namin,” Ilarde explained of their recruits, “Kapag nakikita kami mag-practice they want to join because the dances are very challenging and we encourage them to come.”

There are others helping him with the teaching, Ilarde says, some former members of the world-renown Mabuhay and Bayanihan troupes who’ve settled in the region. 

“We have a relatively young community,” Bolipata averred. “We have (Filipino) teachers, nurses and IT professionals who work for companies here. We have doctors – there are 14 of them in Petersburg. Maraming lumilitaw because of mixed marriages – you can see them now but not before.”
Some Filipinos from other parts of the country have decided to settle there. “Mas tahimik dito kumpara sa ibang lugar,” he added.

Among them is Vellie Dietrich Hall, a successful businesswoman and political activist from Butuan City, who with husband Harry sold their house in Springfield (Northern Virginia) and moved to the outskirts of Farmville (no, not the Facebook app, it’s actually the seat of Prince Edward county, west of Metro Richmond).

A longtime Republican stalwart, she’s been part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s board of advisers since 2010. She recently opened Vellie’s Boutique and Specialty Gift Shop at Diamond Hill in Lynchburg, at the foothills of the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. Diamond Hill is a retreat facility that offers bed and breakfast style lodging “where Southern hospitality and Asian elegance meet”.

“Sigurado next year this is going to be bigger,” Bolipata enthused, telling no one in particular that the cavernous Richmond Convention Center might be too small for the Fil-Am community’s next fiesta. “The first is always the most crucial, how you start and make it happen. With this group, you can expect it to be bigger and better.”

Monday, April 22, 2013


The drumbeat against the “China threat” and President Obama’s pivot to Asia could be very profitable for the United States and may yet provide the kind of economic stimulus that will finally lift American industries.

Countries surrounding China – from Japan in the Far East to the Philippines and Vietnam in Southeast Asia to India – are confronting what they see as an increasingly assertive China which has backed up its ratcheted up rhetoric with an unprecedented splurge in new weapons. Japan was the biggest defense spender until 2005 until China pulled all the breaks, posting double-digit growth rates to about $120 billion in 2012 (although some experts say the amount could be higher because China regularly understates its defense budget).

According to a Reuters report, US arms sales in the Asia-Pacific region hit nearly $14 billion in 2012, up 5.4 percent from the previous year. The US could potentially make $63 billion from military sales worldwide with 85,000 requests received last year – a new record, Reuters claimed.

Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro discussed last week here in Washington DC how military sales to friendly countries are complementing American diplomacy. Foreign military sales have become a potent “tool”, he averred, that’s “played a role in turning this idea of smart power into reality”.

That has led to US offers to sell F-16s to Indonesia, refurbishing over a hundred other F-16s in Taiwan (as Congress weighs selling them advanced versions of this multi-role aircraft) as well as the possible sale of Lockheed’s F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter” to India and South Korea.

Helping present and potential allies build the capacity to defend themselves lifts some of the pressure on the US, Shapiro indicated in a separate, earlier speech.

Contractors like Lockheed, Boeing, Northrop and Raytheon reportedly expect demand for their products and services to pick up and help offset the effects of the sequestration on the Pentagon. Japan, Australia, South Korea and Singapore have shown interest in Raytheon’s “Global Hawk” surveillance drone and Japan has already selected the F-35 as its next mainstay fighter – a deal potentially worth $5 billion for Lockheed Martin.

“Countries now want to partner with the US and we’ve seen it in the tremendous growth of US defense trade,” Shapiro said, adding “2012 was the largest year in history of foreign military sales, amounting to nearly $70 billion…To put that in perspective, in 2011 we broke the previous record at around $30 billion.

“In terms of arms sales to the region, I mean, we’ve – we provide foreign military financing to the Philippines, and we’ve transferred Naval – a Coast Guard cutter was transferred to the Philippines.  We have provided support – counterterrorism support.  And now we’re – they – we are now shifting our focus.  Because the Philippines have developed their own capacity to handle counterterrorism, we’re shifting our focus to helping improve their maritime capability at a time of increasing concerns about maritime security in that part of the world,” Shapiro explained.

The 2nd Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz is scheduled to finally set sail next week from South Carolina and make the voyage through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii and in time to join the Philippine Independence Day celebrations in Manila.

Shapiro also expressed optimism about prospects for arms sales to another China border protagonist, Vietnam. “Right now we still have a policy that we won’t sell lethal arms to Vietnam but there’s still a lot we could work together that doesn’t necessarily have to be lethal. And so we are exploring that potential and those possibilities,” he explained.

Fears about China’s ambitions in the South China Sea and elsewhere is helping drive the growing demand for US arms (aside of course from the need to replace or modernize obsolescent hardware).  “Our goal is not to have an adversarial relationship with China,” Shapiro stressed during last week’s press conference.

Still, China appears to be playing right into the American’s hands. As her military expands, especially its naval forces (including the acquisition of a first aircraft carrier), building a security ring hundreds of miles from its shores and overlaps the territorial waters of neighbors, China appears to be stumbling its way to the realization that changing the region’s geopolitics carries a steep price.

“Going forward, we are hoping that – to encourage the Chinese to play – as they’re becoming a global power, to accept the responsibilities that go along with being a global power,” Shapiro said.

In a press conference with visiting US Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, his Chinese counterpart Fang Fenghui, Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, urged increased cooperation between their two countries. “We respect US interests in the region and are glad to see the United States play a constructive role on Asia Pacific affairs,” he told reporters – could that be sign America’s brand of diplomacy is working?  

Friday, April 19, 2013


Key leaders in the Asian American community emphasized the need for more dialogue as various groups tried to digest proposed immigration reforms presented on Capitol Hill.

The “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013” (S.744) is encouraging, they said, but is also a “work in progress” that needed to be more inclusive.

“Our particular concerns are related to the changes in the family-based immigration system that will prevent families from reuniting with important loved ones; promoting business interests should not come at the expense of families,” said DC-based National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), an advocacy group for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community.

“The Senate proposal could prove a watershed moment in the history of US immigration by bringing millions of people out of the shadows,” said Alison Parker, US program director for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Still the group is worried the bill would expand criminal prosecutions for crossing the country’s southern border. “These prosecutions fail to target genuine threats to public safety or national security and impose tremendous human and financial costs,” he explained, adding “Prosecutions should not be expanded without careful consideration of whether they meet their purported goals.

“We are encouraged that the Senate bill removes barriers for elders to get their citizenship,” said Doua Thor, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Center, but expressed disappointment “that in a country where we value fairness and justice, legal permanent residence who have made a mistake in the past are not given a 2nd chance after they have already paid their debt to society”.

Mee Moua, president of the Asian American Justice Center, described the proposed bill “a substantial step in the right direction toward fixing our broken immigration system and solid starting point for addressing the current backlog” but also added, “We are deeply concerned about the elimination of visa categories pertaining to siblings and married adult children over the age of 30.”

Son Ah Yun, executive director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, said that while they were buoyed by the “roadmap to citizenship” for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, “the road to citizenship is long and arduous with arbitrary triggers that may thwart the path to citizenship for hardworking, aspiring Americans.”

Fil-Am Gregory Cendana, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, stressed the need for the bill to address the needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and trans-nationals to ensure “they are not left in the shadows” after pointing out that 1 out of 10 aspiring citizens is Asian American, and 6 out of 10 H1-B (highly skilled workers) visa holders are from Asia.

Meanwhile, another Fil-Am community leader, lawyer Arnedo Valera of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), lauded provisions to place undocumented aliens on a registered provisional status, granting them authorization to work and travel while waiting for their green card.

“The new provision will stop deportations and removal of non-serious criminal offenders,” Valera, an immigration lawyer, explained. He also supported the proposed creation of the “W” visa category for unskilled or semi-skilled workers that could directly boost an “invisible” segment of Filipinos in America who work as caregivers, babysitters and general housekeepers.

But he vowed to lobby for the retention of the family preference for siblings and all family-based petitions. “We are now seeing a clear and united attempt to a practical solution to the broken immigration system where border security and the legalization of immigrants are both addressed,” Valera averred.

About a third of all family-based visas go to those seeking to reunite with Asian American families but about 1.8 million more are trapped in a massive backlog that could last up to 20 years in the case of Filipinos waiting for their green cards.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


After the defeat of gun reforms, Congress now tackles the proposed comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill. The draft is a mixed bag of good (passage of the DREAM Act) and bad (elimination of visas for siblings and married children of US citizens) but it still has to run the gauntlet of law-making in a deeply-divided Congress.

Here is what we see as “good news”:

*DREAMers – young undocumented immigrants brought here by relatives – will be able to obtain green cards in 5 years and citizenship immediately thereafter.

*The estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who arrived here before Dec. 31, 2011 can legalize their stay by registering as “provisional immigrants” (after paying a $1,000 fine, back taxes, remain unemployed and pass a criminal background check) and could receive a green card after 10 years and apply for citizenship 3 years after that.

*Eliminates the backlog for family and employment-based visas (relatives of US citizens in the Philippines have the longest waiting period – in some cases over 20 years – next only to those from Mexico).

*Opens more employment opportunities in the US – especially for engineers and computer programmers (other fields include farm and construction workers) – where employers with large numbers of foreign workers will be required to pay higher salaries and fees.

And now the “bad news”:

*Eliminates visa categories for brothers and sisters of US citizens as well as married sons and daughters for US citizens who are 31 years or older, beginning 18 months after the law is enacted.

*Links border security improvements to the legalization of undocumented aliens under the Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) mechanism – the Department of Homeland Security must show Congress how it will secure the border with Mexico and certify when it is fully operational; full implementation of e-Verify; and capability to electronically track everyone who leaves the country.

Also, no immigrants in RPI status can apply for green cards until all people in the queue for family- or employment-based green cards when the law is enacted have been dealt with.

The proposed CIR bill also contains certain new provisions, among them:

*Merit-based visa. This new visa category will kick in 5 years after the law is enacted and awards points to individuals based on their education, employment, length of stay in the US and other considerations. A maximum of 250,000 visas will be made available for this. Initially, it will prioritize employment-based visas pending for 3 years and family-based petitions pending for 5 years. Between 2015 and 2021, a fixed percentage of those visas will be reserved for those who have employment- or family-based petitions pending on and after the law is enacted.

*Expand the V visa to allow individuals with an approved family petition to live in the US and allow certain family members to visit the US for up to 60 days a year.
*Creates a new visa category for foreign entrepreneurs who want to start a business in the US.

*Creates the new W guest-worker visa for low-skilled jobs that they can use from one employer to another (gives them 60 days to hunt for a job).  Their dependents are also eligible to get work permits.

*Employees will have the ability to “lock” their social security number under e-Verify so it cannot be used until they need to apply again for employment.

This proposed CIR bill, crafted by a bipartisan group – the so-called Gang of Eight – of Democratic and Republican senators has something for everyone to either love or hate, depending I guess on where you stand.

After presenting the plan to President Obama this morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who along with former GOP presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain is spearheading the CIR effort, pointed out that “No one’s going to get everything they want in a bill. But if we meet in the middle, we can do a lot of good for America.”

“This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me,” McCain added.

Fil-Am groups joined a massive protest on Capitol Hill last week, focusing on provisions eliminating visas for siblings and married children of US citizens. Judge David Valderrama, the 1st Fil-Am elected to a state legislature, said eliminating family visas “undermine our cherished values of family unit. America benefits when immigrant families come together. They work hard, pay taxes, buy homes and start job-creating businesses.”